Friday, October 18, 2013

Reforming Education Reform

Please see here for an essay I wrote on the need to dig deeper to get beyond the frequent foibles of education reform.  The pieces ties into our current Stag Hunt Challenge to surface education solutions that go beyond our current frustratingly factory-like one-size-fits-all model.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

"Go West Young Man"

Dear Reader,

Here’s a crazy idea: what if the deep potential of the internet lies in government?  Not through some federal policy or DARPA scheme mind you but in how technology might transform what actually constitutes government – for instance the delivery of basic public goods like water, roads or schools. What if 20 years from now we’ll look back on the history of the internet and the frontier phase from the 1990’s to the early 21rst century will be seen as merely a warm-up to the radically larger shift in political economy that information technology allowed by revolutionizing the challenges of bureaucracy? What if the current barrier to that transformation wasn’t technical so much as institutional inertia?

I actually just left my job as a public finance analyst to move up to Silicon Valley because I deeply believe this opportunity reflects the most important challenge facing public servants today.  That might sound a little crazy but the decision becomes obvious when I ask myself a simple question: what will excellence in public service look like in 10 years?  I firmly believe it'll be vastly different than what we see today.  Consider a few trends.

Confidence in public institutions has reached record lows. The world economy remains paralyzed by an ongoing global banking crisis. A growing school of thought led by the likes of Peter Thiel and Tyler Cowen argues that technological growth – a core driver of human progress – has slowed for last past few decades.

And then there’s the question of the internet, which although enabling us to connect to each other in new in different ways, seems to have fallen short of the original 90’s era promise to foundationally transform society. The ability to waste time anywhere with anyone on Facebook’s Farmeville may allow new app-driven private sector growth but that hardly changes the world – let alone build a better one.

I have become convinced, however, that by and large those zany 90’s cybervisions were not wrong so much as premature and that the deep application of these tools to public problems will change, well, everything. I have seen firsthand the immense potential for information technology to transform how we tackle the delivery of basic public goods like schools, roads, and water resources.

Since I began my career in 2005 as a counselor at Sunshine Fun Camp, I have worked to tackle public problems from more perspectives than my Economist-loving high school self knew existed. I’ve worked at America’s largest water district, at a two person media startup (myself included) covering LA City Hall, at my local State Senators district office, at the largest public employee union in Southern California, at a campaign predicated on curtailing public employee union power, at the California Department of Finance tracking stimulus money, at a network nonprofit training other civic organizations to create get out the vote programs, and at the nation’s capital representing California local governments. And throughout that experience I have tackled public challenges with sustained analytical rigor: I led pioneering GIS research projects at the Rose Institute of State and Local Government for four years, wrote and published A New California Dream over the course of the next eighteen months, and spent the last 21 months as an analyst at the nation's leading public finance firm.


Revolutionizing Bureaucracy

For the past two years I’ve also served as a Director for the Los Angeles Education Partnership, a $5 million nonprofit with a three decade track record of developing educational excellence.  And over the course of the past year, I have designed and led the initial implementation of the LAEP Viral project -- an effort to creatively explore how LAEP might leverage technology to scale our model of activating community to create educational excellence. For instance, we have a time-honed method of inquiry based professional development built around quality peer to peer dialogue. Such viral interactions are hard to scale through solely face to face contact. LAUSD has 45,000 teachers, and we are a roughly 40 person nonprofit. So we have implemented a tool that virtualizes some of that engagement.

More broadly, we have been building out connections with Imagine K-12, an education technology accelerator located in Palo Alto, to more fully pioneer the possibility laden intersection of virtual and real world models in education. The deep hypothesis is that such connectivity will enable new mechanisms to activate community, moving the needle on how we engage the challenges John Dewey eloquently articulated in The Public and its Problems:

“Without such communication the public will remain shadowy and formless, seeking spasmodically for itself, but seizing and holding its shadow rather than its substance. Till the Great Society is converted into a Great Community, the Public will remain in eclipse. Communication can alone create a great community.”

Let’s remember that the internet is ultimately a commons – in many ways the greatest agora humanity has ever known. And in that vein, the nascent "Gov 2.0" movement, although perhaps a bit faddy, rings true.

As a Coro Fellow in 2010-11, I explored how foundational facets of the human condition interface with how we work in a group, manage an organization, or form government -- in the broadest, and I mean broadest, sense of the word possible. For instance, while at the Southern California Association of Governments I surveyed best practices and reimagined how the organization might better comment on projects as part of the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”).


It struck me as profoundly odd that agencies would shuffle thick stacks of project documentation back and forth when the actual original content consisted of a few sentences of comment. Why not just have a gchat conversation? Or looking beyond these agencies to the public more broadly, why not integrate a platform like quora to organically mediate the sharing of tribal knowledge like insight into the environmental impact or feasibility of a given project?  

For the past 21 months, I worked as an analyst at Public Financial Management, supporting the management of basic public infrastructure throughout my home state of California. Beyond engaging in standard public finance deal flow, I have researched and developed quantitative models for the $13 billion Bay Delta Conservation Plan conveyance construction and environmental mitigation and several multi-million dollar public-private partnerships.  

Life as an analyst gives one an interesting perspective into the substantial terra incognita in public problems. Every day I swam in vast streams of information -- credit reports, market updates, and reams of financials -- and yet comprehensive data for utilities, schools, and cities -- essential for integrating public services -- too often simply doesn’t exist. For instance, I’ve spent the past several years hunting in vain for a map -- or the requisite shapefiles in order to build one -- of the municipal boundaries of California’s roughly 7000 local governments. Or recently when I was looking for data on retail water rates in Southern California, I realized that the most up to date survey was done in 2006 -- by yours truly in an old internship!

Root Causes

More broadly, I often find myself pondering how remarkably little we know about what's the root cause of our public problems and whether our ostensible solutions are actually working. Why is educational opportunity in Los Angeles a function of zip code? What's causing that disparity? What "solutions" actually help the situation? Which solutions scale and how might we tailor that to a specific situation?  Which have unintended side effects? What else might we consider as potentially new approaches?

Too often our engagement with such questions gets buried in mammoth hundred page reports and trapped in arcane institutions like LA “Mumified” aka the Los Angeles Unified School District. Yet as we engage that challenge, it’s worth remembering what James Q. Wilson, perhaps the greatest thinker on the problems of bureaucracy, had to say about the possibility of its solution:

“Perhaps a grand re-organization, accompanied by lots of "systems analysis," "citizen participation," "creative federalism," and "interdepartmental coordination." Merely to state this prospect is to deny it.”

Perhaps.  Yet perhaps not. Don't those requirements -- "systems analysis," "citizen participation," or "interdepartmental coordination" -- seem like precisely the sort of problems that the internet would enable new categories of solutions to?  Those are ultimately communications and knowledge gaps.

Looking deeper though, the epistemological antecedents of these problems lack easy -- or often any -- answers and notoriously lead to elliptical discourse on the human condition, an idea I’ve been chewing on for a while now. In middle school, I vividly remember reading Locke's An Essay Concerning Human Understanding.  I did not get very far into the work and honestly understood even less, yet the questions Locke raised continue to linger. What role does experience play in shaping a person? What transcends one’s position in life? How do I know -- anything really -- with certainty?  

In no small coincidence, my undergraduate intellectual focus -- and continued passions -- were mathematics and philosophy.  Note neither of these exactly qualify as innovative tools, having in fact structured methodologies for thousands of years. I have never taken a formal CS course in my life (don't think Zed Shaw would agree with the word formal), and my programming experience is limited to playing around on Project Euler and managing unnecessarily complicated VBA models in excel. I’m not a fancy technologist -- far from it.

I just believe there’s a frontier of possibility for how government might tackle basic public problems and that the pioneering spirit that defines California might add value to that cause.  In a nutshell, that’s why I do what I do and why I wrote my book A New California Dream.  An illustrative excerpt:

“The world has changed far faster than government’s ability to keep pace, creating a huge space for good government reforms to better society. In William Mulholland’s era, Los Angeles could get its water through the work of a single agency acting essentially in isolation. Today, however, not only do you need coordination between multiple agencies at multiple levels of government that simply deal with water, but our world is fundamentally more connected, with profound institutional consequences.
Operating that water infrastructure is predicated on a vast array of telecommunications and electrical systems, involving several more sets of public and private actors. Even NASA and the military are involved. Refurbished predator drones are flown over the Bay Delta to gather environmental quality data. Today a dazzling array of interlocking parts work together to ensure Californians have a clean, secure, and sustainable supply of water.

The fundamental challenge California faces – getting water from where it falls to where it’s needed – hasn’t changed. But rather than having a set of institutions designed to solve that problem, we’ve settled for a byzantine structure that only exists because that’s the way things have always been. So why not unleash the famed creativity of the California people to systematically rethink how government can address the fundamental challenges – schools, prisons, water, public safety, etc. – we face as a people?” [p. 195]

I honestly do not know what that will ultimately look like. I find it an immensely humbling exercise to reflect on the fact that nearly every president in the past century and countless grand good government commissions have proposed bureaucratic reorganizations and yet the deep problems of efficiency, arbitrariness, and ability to tackle the root causes of public problems still linger.  Perhaps we are simply stuck with those conditions. Yet the story of humanity is nothing if not one of creating tools to improve our lot.

Terra Incognita

Still anecdote and intuition are no substitutes for deep political economy; they merely provide motivation. It is in that spirit that I’d like to offer a few loose conjectures for how recent technological advances might transform how we deliver public goods:

1) “In God we trust, all others must bring data”

The hypothesis here is that better data will allow for better analysis of public problems and thus better decisions on the best avenue to tackle them. In his annual foundation letter, Bill Gates eloquently articulated the power of this sort of analysis.  "You can achieve amazing progress if you set a clear goal and find a measure that will drive progress toward that goal-in a feedback loop."

2) “Communication can alone create a Great community”

The internet at a basic level connects humans in new ways, allowing new pathways to activate community. Witness the proliferation of online discussion groups and how they bleed into real world meetups. Imagine if we had an online platform as intuitive and robust as facebook to link learning in schools to the real world through job shadows, guest speakers, internships, field trips, and other mechanisms. The ability to scale volunteer interactions could go well beyond schools though, particularly if we integrated such tools with a rethinking of what constitutes the social contract. The growth in collaborative consumption is an exemplar of this potential.

3) Changing Everything

We’re sort of at a weird moment in world history.  The standard barometers of our economic and political health are getting a little wacky. The President of the IMF says the world economy won’t recover until 2018.  Our political system lurches from one self-imposed crisis to the next.

And at the same time folks like Ray Kurzweil say we’re close to the singularity, people like Robert Gordon argue that the pace of innovation has slowed dramatically.  Then you have intriguing thinkers like Isabella Kaminski wondering how close we are to a post-scarcity world in the real economy -- at least for some sectors. Mass proliferation of robots and/or additive manufacture might make many goods beyond abundant. Such possibilities hint at a foundationally new political economy.

These conjectures are ultimately speculative and I laugh at myself as I wonder whether these three ideas will prove as accurate as those 16th century maps of California as an island.  And that metaphor highlights a big problem in the world today: the need for practical maps to make sense of the current upheavals in political economy.

For the past 15 months, I’ve run the Daily Stag Hunt with a few friends from college, working to pioneer a few unique political economy insights on our blog.  We might have new tools today.  Yet the basic challenges of figuring out how we humans might better live together is as old as human civilization.  If anything the tried and true tools of reflection, analysis and critical inquiry are more valuable in times of change.

Stephan Colbert puts the point much more succinctly. After listening to Gavin Newsom explain his new book Citizenville, he asked, “What the fuck does any of that mean?”

In a nutshell, that’s the challenge I’m looking to tackle: articulating the potential of technology to revolutionize what constitutes government in clear practical terms. I believe there’s gold there, even if its not clear precisely where it is.

So here’s the plan: embark on a proverbial expedition to California. Rather than mapping more California-as-islands from afar, I intend to go to to Silicon Valley to more fully explore how technology might revolutionize what constitutes government in California and beyond.  

That's a vague abstract idea, but that's the defining aspect of a frontier: the unknown. I've got plans, projects and a pile of cliff bars saved up but ultimately all I've got is a hunch that there's gold out West.

Will keep you all posted if I find anything cool.

Cheers,

Atwater


Monday, November 5, 2012

The Last Days of the Late, Great State of California


Tomorrow we will go to vote as part of what Governor Brown calls the "sacred and spiritual ritual that affirms that the people are in charge."  The outcome of the election is uncertain, but what's clear is that regardless what happens on November 6th, California will still face a host of critical problems.  4 in 10 black and brown students won't graduate high school.  Our levees in the bay delta are vulnerable to catastrophic earthquake.  Our state's unemployment rate has stayed above 10% for the past three years.  

Nothing on the ballot this November will solve those problems (nor obviously will a blog post for that matter).  The Economist puts the point neatly: "This election offers Americans an unedifying choice.With sober recognition of the mountain these problems make, I offer you this exceptional excerpt from The Last Days of the Late, Great State of California, published in 1968, to remind us that our problems are not new and suggest that we need to look beyond the standard solutions:


“For many, California was the New Frontier personified. In fact , it had become so much the image for the American dream fulfilled that we tend to forget its other firsts.  And in ignoring these, we are seeing only a part of the California that was.  
California led the nation in divorce, crime, automobile fatalities, homosexuality, venereal disease, and alchoholism.  
Californians first concocted the Bloody Mary, the screwdriver, the Mai Tai, the gimlet, the Moscow Mule, the Margarita, and (though others claim it) the martini; with 9 percent of the nation’s population, it claimed 12 percent of its alcoholics. 
Californians drank more beer, wine (2.2 gallons per person as against the national average of .979), and hard liquor (of vodka alone, Californians drank 6.3 million gallons annually, against 1.7 million imbibed by New Yorkers).  They smoked more cigarettes (142.7 packs per year per man, woman and child), used more drugs, and committed suicide at a rate second only to that of neighboring Nevada (whose statistics included Californians who crossed the border to gamble -- and lost).  
California contained some of the most spectacular natural scenery in the world and destroyed it at an unprecedented rate.  It contained the world’s and tallest trees and cut down the latter.  
Its native sons included Adlai Stevenson, Earl Warren, John Steinbeck and Richard Nixon.  But many of its adopted sons made names for themselves, too.  
It was while living in California that George Lincoln Rockwell became exposed to the anti-Semitic teachings that led to his embracing Nazism, while W. D. Fard was so embittered by his treatment there that he founded the Black Muslims.  
It was not always first: Los Angeles, June 4, 1968, followed Jackson, Missippi, June 12, 1963; Dallas, Texas, November 1963; Memphis, Tennessee, April 4, 1968. California provided the founding site for the United Nations, and gave the John Birch Society the strength of numbers to oppose it. 
It gave the world an image of Western hospitality but was for the unattached an incredibly lonely place.  
It paid lip service to equality for the Negro and voted 2 to 1 to deny him more housing.  
It sent more civil rights workers into the South than any other state and left uncorrected conditions in its own backyards: Watts, Hunter’s Point, Richmond.  
It raised the personal income of the majority of its residents over that of the rest of the nation and kept its agricultural workers in virtual peonage.  
It housed the world’s largest commercial bank and led all other states in bank stickups and personal and commercial bankruptcy filings.  
Its cost of living was close to the highest in the world.  
Its mild climate spawned more bizarre religions and utopian schemes than the rest of the states put together.  
It was a graveyard for lost causes -- moral rearmament, technocracy, the Townsend Plan -- only in California they refused to expire.  
It employed more chiropractors, naturopaths and faith healers than any other state.  
It pioneered the topless and the bottomless, the Hell’s Angels and the hippies.  
It created the nation’s finest system of higher education and methodically set about destroying it.  
It counted more mentally disturbed people than any other state and drastically cut its appropriations for mental health.  
It contained so many anti-Communist crusaders that there were never Communists enough to go around.  
Its extremist right wing became so acceptable that large industrial corporations -- such as Schick Safety Razor Company, Coast Federal Savings, Richfield Oil and Holiday Magic Cosmetics -- openly contributed financial support.  
It was a state of great dreams that had a way of turning out badly: from the hydrogen bomb to the Kaiser-Fraser. It gave America the freeway, smog, and the sonic boom.  
It prided itself on being progressive, farsighted.  But its residents were very much in and of and for the moment -- ignoring the warnings of experts, building their cities in close proximity to known earthquake faults. And to lead it, this most populous and most important of all states, whose decisions affected the lives of people in every nation in the world, it chose in its last election an “acting governor.”  
Though it may be heresy to even think it, it must also be said that California was often a ridiculous state. Then why not remember the best things about it, and forget the rest? For a simple reason.  California was America tomorrow.  If its problems were larger than life, they were also the prototypes for the rest of the nation.  California was the direction in which America was heading.  If we don’t separate the myth from the reality now, we shall have to face the same failures again and again elsewhere, for in history as in education, when a lesson is not learned it is repeated.”

And from the book's wikipedia page: "As a result of its publication, some religious believers in the Los Angeles region decided to move away, in fear of its fictional events actually occurring. The turmoil surrounding the book's publication became known as the "Great California Earthquake Scare"." 

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Reforming "Reform"

As part of my continued effort to provide a central locus for my writing, here's my piece titled "Reforming Reform" that went up over at the inestimable Calbuzz.  And here's something I put together on the potential of Social Impact Bonds over at Fox and Hounds.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Building Opportunity Together

Hello Non-profit world,

California has incredible potential -- there’s a reason Tesla, Pixar, and the local food movement call this place home. As readers of this blog know, I wrote a book called A New California Dream on how we can better realize that potential.

The work non-profits do is instrumental in that effort. Ideas are great. They’re even better when they’re used to create a better world. So I want to do what I can to support organizations that work to expand opportunity for the people of California.

So with that as motivation, here are a few possibilities on how we can partner A New California Dream with the nonprofit community.

Email Blast  -- Any book sold through an email blast to your database will provide a 20% return on sale to your nonprofit. If you are interested in this, I’d be happy to provide you with copy for a blast and with a link to a shopping cart that will track sales on behalf of your organization.

An Event – Books sold at events through a partnership will provide a 50% return on sale to you. This could be through a book-signing event which we do together or if you already have an event happening, we could sell the books as an additional revenue-generating activity.

Blue Sky -- I’m extremely flexible and happy to help however I can. If you’ve got innovative ideas on how we can generate positive change in California, I’d love to hear them. (Contests, festivals, actions, you name it...)

I appreciate your time in reading this and thinking about the proposed ideas. (And if you know of any nonprofits that might be interested, forwarding this along!)  If you have any questions or other ideas, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Cheers,

Patrick
patrickatwater@gmail.com

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A New California Dream (Excerpt)

The first section of A New California Dream:

Saturday, June 11, 2011

What is Loyalty to California?

Crossposted from a piece I wrote for Zocalo
In the rhetorical crescendo of his inaugural, if not his governorship thus far, Jerry Brown claimed that “We can overcome the sharp divisions that leave our politics in perpetual gridlock, but only if we reach into our hearts and find that loyalty, that devotion to California above and beyond our narrow perspectives.”
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Sounds awesome, this loyalty to California. Sign me up! Yet I can’t help but wonder: What exactly does that mean? How am I supposed to live this commitment? Where is the manifesto, the manual for being a loyal Californian?
I ask because looking at the California news on any particular day, it certainly seems like I should be doing something. Budget cuts, tax debates, endemic unemployment, political gridlock — the parade of depressing headlines suggest that California’s bright future is slipping and that my generation faces an uncertain path.
So again, with the urgency of our current crisis, what exactly am I supposed to be loyal to? It’s a tough question because we Californians are pretty sheepish about identifying ourselves as such. Sure you see the occasional “Cali” t-shirt or tattoo, but ask someone who they are and almost no one says “Californian.” Which is really remarkable when you consider the uniqueness of our society.
In little over a century and a half, California has been transformed from a sleepy agrarian backwater to seizing the spotlight on the world’s stage. Where else in the world has some much of human history been compressed into one region in so short a time? We have raced through the Odyssey-like experience of the Gold Rush years, the near-feudal tyranny of the Southern Pacific Railroad, an economic explosion into modernity during the second world war, and at the turn of the 21st century, we invented the New Economy. Pretty unique, when you think about it.
And this history has imbued California with a certain character, even if we don’t put it front and center. Back in the 19th century, the pioneering Jesse Fremont, the remarkable wife of California’s first Senator John C. Fremont, eloquently wrote: “How can I tell all that the name, California, represents? If our East has a life of yesterday, and the midwest of today, then here tomorrow had come… What a dream of daring young energy – of possibility – of certainties – of burdens dropped and visions realized.”
This young energy never really left California – witness the dot com boom and the heyday over all the new young millionaires. Yet we still don’t really have a strong identity; we still really can’t answer the question of what “the name, California, represents.” We’re just never going to be Texas, “that guy” at the 50-state party, always needing to tell everyone how much bigger things are back home.
As Californians, our sense of shared identity is too diffuse and amorphous, amounting to a shared “nice weather, isn’t it?” shrug. I am not saying we should all go around wearing bear lapel pins, but why is the nation’s largest and most innovative state so unwilling to pound its chest? To the rest of the world, after all, the things that make America America – the Hollywood blockbusters, the Malibu lifeguards and the transformative technologies out of places like Apple and Google – all come from here.
A couple of months ago, I was helping my mom in her classroom, and I read the kids a story about the gold rush. Afterwards, because I can’t get enough of people’s stories about California, I earnestly asked the students what they thought about the California dream. Of course, people don’t really talk about that so much these days, so I got a bunch of blank stares in return.
Then my mom, far wiser than me, jumped in to ask the kids why their family came here. The kids rattled off touching story after touching story about how their family moved here for a better job, better weather, or really just the hope of a better life.
Those dreams define the California experience. A little over a century and a half ago, hundreds of thousands of people from around the world poured into a sleepy agrarian backwater simply because they heard rumors of gold. United by nothing more than the hope of striking it rich, Californians forged a society based on a simple premise: here, a better life is possible. And they still come: there is a reason that over 220 languages are spoken in LA County alone.
Ours is an aspirational society; America’s America, the place of burdens dropped and visions realized. A place premised on the idea that everyone could do what they want with their life. That hope should command our loyalty.
Especially when the promise is jeopardized.
So what does California loyalty require of me? Josiah Royce, the California-born intellectual defines loyalty as “The willing and practical and thoroughgoing devotion of a person to a cause.” Thinking about California, it’s tempting to immediately think about titans whose feats rightly landed them in California’s Hall of Fame: say, Kevin Starr’s heroic effort to chronicle the California Dream or Earl Warren’s lifelong commitment to public service.
Yet, as Royce points out, loyalty is about much more than accomplishment. In fact, he says we should “consider especially the loyalty of the obscure, of the humble, of your near neighbors, of the strangers who by chance come under your notice.” I’m immediately reminded of one of my lifelong friends whose family immigrated here to give him the opportunity to have a better life.
Unlike me, my friend is chasing his California dream over in Afghanistan. He joined the Army so he and his family could get citizenship — a moment forever enshrined in Facebook lore with his status update about driving down the 210, windows down, blasting “And I’m proud to be an American.”
That’s loyalty.
And really, though few of us can match the sacrifice of those who go off to war, this sort of loyalty is more common than you might expect. Think of the everyday figures whose small but immeasurable acts create the social glue that makes California a place worth living in. Consider the teacher who stays after school, long after the bell has rung, planning the lesson that will bring students just a bit closer to reaching their dreams. Or folks who agree to clean a hillside or beach on the weekend; devoted health providers in overwhelmed community health centers who go out of their way to follow up with patients after their visits; journalists who make the extra calls to get their story right, shedding light on pressing public matters.
This loyalty isn’t about any particular cause, let alone any political party or ideology. Instead, as Royce argues, loyalty comes from a deep commitment to live a morally significant life. It’s about intentionally choosing a cause that’s larger than yourself and finding a way to make those ideals real in a practical way.
Royce’s ideas didn’t emerge spontaneously out of a vacuum. As he wrote The Philosophy of Loyalty, his brilliant son, who had graduated from Harvard at age 18, gradually slipped into insanity, and Royce committed him to a state mental asylum. Yet out of grief emerged a monumental work. And that pain, as Royce makes clear, is in many ways needed: “Strain, endurance, sacrifice, toil, — the dear pangs of labor at the moments when perhaps defeat and grief most seem ready to crush our powers, and when only the very vehemence of labor itself saves us from utter despair — these are the things that most teach us what loyalty really is.”
So in this dire moment, how can we translate a sense of California identity and concern for our neighbors into collective civic engagement? How can we reverse the disengagement expressed by such things as a paltry 11 percent voter turnout in the recent Los Angeles City Council elections?
Of course, disengagement is not a new phenomenon in a state built to advance the aspirations of individuals, and their freedom. Even during the state’s first constitutional convention, many of the delegates didn’t even bother to show up to Monterey, choosing instead to try their luck in the fields. We are undone by our very virtues.
At the end of his inaugural speech, Governor Brown highlighted this enduring struggle to find our better angels: “…it strikes me that what we face together as Californians are not so much problems but rather conditions, life’s inherent difficulties. A problem can be solved or forgotten, but a condition always remains. It remains to elicit the best from each of us and show us how we depend on one another and how we have to work together.”
Today, regardless of what happens with Jerry Brown’s tax extensions, California truly faces an era of limits. Of tuition increases and larger class sizes, of state park closures and service cuts. Of parents worrying whether their children will have the same opportunities they did. We face the fundamental challenge of making the best of our all too human condition.
That challenge, making good on the promise of California, is the fundamental question we face today. How do we protect and burnish the glorious inheritance that was passed along to us – of preserving our pristine coastlines, enabling a culture of incredible innovation, and providing a world-class education so that we can honor our obligation to the next generation?
Life in California can seem all too easy – that is part of the brand’s appeal – but loyalty to California shouldn’t be. These are demanding times. Loyalty to California is about coming together to figure out the fundamental question of how we can live together. But it’s also about small, everyday gestures. Fixing California is a huge mountain, but we can all fix our small piece of California in our own lives.
So vote, get involved in the big questions that face our state, but also find a child that needs mentoring. Help out at your local community center. Give your time to a neighborhood school. Make another Californian’s dream of a better life more real in a small but powerful way.
And when – not if – it gets hard to make the time or find the resources, muster that last ounce of devotion, volunteer that extra inch to your cause. Because that’s loyalty to California.
Patrick Atwater, a fourth generation Californian and College Bound mentor, is a former Redistricting and Demographics Manager of the Rose Institute of State and Local Government. He is author of A New California Dream: Reconciling the Paradoxes of America’s Golden State (September 2011).